Classic Movie Review: America, America (1963)

Title: America, America
Release Date: December 15, 1963
Director: Elia Kazan
Production Company: Athena Enterprises
Summary/Review: America, America is an immigration story written, directed, and produced by Elia Kazan and based on the experiences of his uncle. Unusual for a film produced in the United States at the time it is made in a neorealist style with a cast of little-known actors.  The movie stars Greek actor Stathis Giallelis as Stavros Topouzoglou, a young ethnically Greek man living in the Anatolia region of Turkey in the 1890s. He dreams of escaping poverty and the oppressive rule of the Ottoman Empire by fleeing to the United States.

The nearly three-hour film is essentially three different stories.  The first part depicts Stavros’ life in Anatolia and the massacre of Armenians that kills his friend Vartan (Frank Wolff).  His father sends him to Constantinople to earn money to bring the rest of the family to join him.  The second part of the film follow Stavros’ struggles in Constantinople which include him becoming engaged to Thomna (Linda Marsh), the daughter of the wealthy merchant Aleko Sinnikoglou (Paul Mann) in order to use the dowry to pay for his passage to America.  The final third depicts the journey to New York City which Stavros pays for through having an affair with the wealthy American Sophia (Katharine Balfour). Hohannes Gardashian (Gregory Rozakis), a fellow dreamer hoping to emigrate to America and suffering from tuberculosis, appears at various points through the story and plays an important part in Stavros’ achieving his dream.

The movie is rough and sprawling and overlong.  The use of American actors in lot of the parts, speaking in broad American accents, comes off as very odd.  The acting also tends to be over the top in general, although Giallelis is a compelling central performance.  This movie was obviously a very personal project for Kazan.  I’m glad I watched it although I don’t feel that it’s a movie I will return to.

Rating: ***

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